Category

Macbeth

Kaitlin Morrow - The Porter

Now do an improvised clown routine with your ass; or Becoming The Porter

By | Macbeth, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I’ve lived in fear of improv for most of my life, certainly my adult life. All my buddies are improvisors, I’ve seen hundreds of improv shows, I’ve always secretly wanted to do it, but I’ve always been paralyzed by fear. To the point, that on a regular basis, I would have improv nightmares, where I’m called onstage incorrectly to do an improv show. But then this year, I thought, enough is enough, I will conquer my fear of improv, and have been doing improv shows with Sex-T-Rex  (a comedy group that I’m a member of) all year.

STEP 1:

When I heard that I’d be playing The Porter, in Shakespeare in the Ruff’s ‘Macbeth; Walking Shadows’,  I was excited to get the one comedic role of the show. We were in rehearsals and I was working on getting off-book, and was pretty much there, when I received a text message from Brendan (the show’s director) and Zach (the puppet creator) saying that they were thinking of not using the text at all. I was excited about it, because doing a scene and following the beats of it, is a world I’m comfortable playing in. But when I read the text a little further it said ‘we’re hoping for it to be an improvised clown routine’ and I pretty much shit my pants.

Then, when I showed up on that day of rehearsal, and they told me they were thinking of making it the ass puppet, and I was even more terrified. Ingrid Hansen had developed this puppet during Ruff’s Macbeth workshop last December, and I had seen it on a video and thought it was really cute. She put a mask on her butt and put a cloth over the rest of her body, bent over, put her head between her knees, and used her hands sticking out in front as the puppet’s hands. Very contorted, with her feet backwards. It was fine, in theory, but the little I remembered from clown is that you’re supposed to constantly check-in with your audience, and in order to do that with my ass, it was going to be very difficult. So then, for what felt like two hours, though I’m assured is was more like one hour, I was improvising for the cast; it became an exercise in not panicking. 

So whenever we came to The Porter scene in rehearsals, I was filled with dread. Not only was I contorted, but to be contorted for that length of time, and it was hot, and I literally felt like an ass. No one was laughing, I didn’t know what it looked like, I was stumbling around thinking ‘this isn’t funny and I literally have to make up what I’m doing on the spot’. Then they gave me these arms, which were really heavy, and then the keys, which were ever heavier. There was one day, when I went off with Zach to work on The Porter, but all we did was talk about my anxiety and didn’t actually do any work. When we came back, I felt so unprepared and I just tried to smile through it, because what else am I going to do? I was expecting to conquer my fear of improv, but come on! As a clown, with my ass, that IS my nightmare (laughs). 

STEP 2:

But then one day, really close to the end of the process, Brendan sent everyone off with their Young Ruffians (the teenagers in Ruff’s apprenticeship program), except for mine: Amie & Cheyenne, which he told to stay and watch me do The Porter. ‘Oh great’, I thought, ‘any respect that have/may have had for me will immediately be gone, so that’s great’. But it went alright, and they giggled throughout as Brendan and Zach yelled instructions of things to do with him. It was sort of the first time I had had an audience and was starting to get a sense of what was funny and what wasn’t. 

And then, my big ‘aha moment’ was when they asked to put the puppet on. My first reaction was, why on earth would you want to? But they were so into it and both really wanting to do it and then the wonderful thing that happened was, that it was the first time I saw what it looked like. I was able to ask it to do the things that I had been asked to do, and I finally saw what worked and what didn’t and the words that Zach and Brendan said to me finally made sense. ‘It looks really funny when the arms are in the air’, or ‘the faster the feet move the better’. Just all of these things that were theoretical, I was finally watching happen, and realized that The Porter is actually quite delightful. And so it was a complete 180; I was inspired but their keenness, they didn’t have the hang ups that I had and I thought ‘oh my gosh, this is just a silly puppet’ and now when I go to do it, I have a better picture in my mind of what it looks like. And for me, being a puppeteer first, the picture is really important and you can’t do that with The Porter, even with a mirror, you’re looking at it upside-down and backwards. 

STEP 3:Kaitlin Morrow-Puppet

Now that the show is running, it’s less improvised, there are beats, but it’s still loose. Getting to this point was all improv. Because this was so terrifying for me, but I’m doing it and it’s going well, it’s been huge, it’s been such a huge step. If it wasn’t going well, it would still be huge, but it would be a different journey.

And, I’ve heard from lots of people saying it’s funny. There was a tweet recently saying ‘I finally laughed at The Porter’ and I thought YES! That was my whole goal, but I didn’t think I’d achieve it this way. I’m really really happy that people like it, that they’re laughing and responding, I mean doing comedy, that’s all that matters, silence is death. Especially doing comedy with your ass. I’ve seen and done bad improv and I’m just glad that this isn’t one of those experiences.

-Kaitlin Morrow 

 

2015 Season Announcement

By | Macbeth, Uncategorized

Macbeth + Puppets = MacWhat??????  

Ruff’s Artistic Director, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, explains our most adventurous production yet.

I love Macbeth. It’s one of my favourite plays to read, to speak, or to perform in (I played Malcolm under the direction of Nick Hutchinson in theatre school). The visceral imagery that Shakespeare uses in his writing is unparalleled anywhere else – it’s incredible. And now, this coming summer, I couldn’t be more excited to be directing it with Shakespeare in the Ruff. But ironically, as an audience member, I’ve often had a hard time watching it. The play asks us to watch the fall of a tyrannical, blood-thirsty, Evil-with-a-capital-E madman. I’m often unsure if I’m meant to enjoy the blood bath as I would in a horror flick or be disgusted by the tyrant’s inhumanity. In either case the result is that I disassociate with Macbeth’s character, and lose the point of the play. So what are we going to do differently? ENTER THE PUPPETS!

My first introduction to puppetry was 8 years ago, by a great man named Zach Fraser who directed me in a show about WWII called “…and stockings for the ladies” by the ever inventive RustWerk Company. One component of the show featured three puppets speaking to their survival of the concentration camps. Yes, I was thinking the same thing: puppets + concentration camp = this is not going to go well. But their moving monologues were what the audience connected with most. Something about the simplicity, fragility, and naivety inherent in those puppets made them immediately sympathetic. A puppet, unlike a human actor, is clinging to life every moment they are on stage. The audience is directly responsible for that puppet’s existence – it’s their imagination that allows the puppet to live, and a unique bond is formed between them. Kind of like watching your child take its first steps. 

It’s this aspect of puppetry that I want to explore with the story of Macbeth. I’m interested in a figuratively and literally fragile Macbeth built of wood and paper. A man, filled with naivety, exposing his doubts and fears to an audience who is responsible for giving him life. I would be more willing to go on a journey with Macbeth if I could see both his emotional and corporal fragility through everything he does. That’s exactly what we get with puppets. 

And I haven’t even mentioned all of the supernatural stuff in the play that’s way more fun in the world of puppetry. Puppets aren’t bound by the laws of physics, and so can do all sorts of inhuman things. Witch puppets?! Are you kidding me?!

The real challenge is going to be bringing together the worlds of puppetry and Shakespearean text. Luckily we got to spend a week developing ideas thanks to funding from the Ontario Arts Council. We already have some exciting things up our puppet sleeves and we’ve embarked on a rather drastic adapting process, letting the aesthetic choice of working with puppetry guide our approach to the text. 

And the secret weapon that I’m most excited about: I’ve brought on Zach Fraser, the man who taught me everything I know about puppetry, to build our puppets and work with us as a puppet choreographer throughout rehearsals. 

And now, a word from the man himself:

Ok. Confession.  I don’t always understand Shakespeare!

His words can be poetic & powerful, but at times, I get over-whelmed by the language. Through the years, I’ve seen many Shakespeare-in-the-Park productions. In Toronto… In Montreal… In Halifax… Each has its own charm. But I often leave the performance feeling like I don’t understand the story as well as I should.

This summer, with Shakespeare in the Ruff, we intend to create a truly accessible, visceral production that touches the soul and transports the spirit…

…using puppets.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a production of Shakespeare as unique in its vision as that which we are venturing to create this summer in Withrow Park. Shakespeare’s language can be exquisite. The plight of puppets can be absurd, splendid, and heart-wrenching. Puppets are the masters of high comedy & deepest drama, so partnering them up with Shakespeare makes perfect sense to us.

There’s a reason why most theatre companies avoid puppetry: they add a LOT of extra work to a production. But there’s also a reason why some of us keep getting drawn back to puppets; because they are spellbinding, seductive, magical, and they have the power to win our hearts instantaneously! They appear to be naïve, but their power is great.

Ruff is an ambitious, motivated, slick young company of talented & bold artists. I applaud the company for their willingness to respect, revere, and yet reinvent Shakespeare’s plays. It’s an honour to join forces with these Ruffians this summer.

Zach Fraser